By all accounts Vince spent a life of intellectual pursuits. He was a high achiever in academic studies, having graduated in the top of every class of which he was ever a part. He trained in specialty medicine and practiced radiology for a couple decades. In his fifties, ever the student, he went back to complete a 3 year residency in psychiatry which was his first love. When Vince had finished medical school in the 1950’s the field of psychiatry was still nascent, offering only crude pharmaceuticals and questionable therapies such as electroshock. Vince, instead, chose to study the burgeoning area of radiology and subsequently spent the 1960’s and 70’s and 80’s taking part in the introduction of exciting technologies such as CT scanning, MRI’s, ultrasound, and mammography.
By the mid-1980’s, psychiatry had come into it’s own. New insights and pharmaceuticals had revolutionized the practice of general psychiatry. Locked wards were being emptied out and adult programs were mainstreaming otherwise debilitated individuals into the workforce. Vince enjoyed psychoanalysis as well as medical management, and enjoyed the discussion of the controversies just as much as the practice of the art. He operated his storefront office in the south suburbs for a decade and served his “carriage trade” of professionals and working class alike.
This past week, I have received correspondence about Vince from his siblings. He was the older brother to three sisters, all remarkable people in their own right. They relate the quiet thoughtfulness of their brother, which was often unnoticed amid all the boisterous verbal sparring that marked Vince’s demeanor. His letters home from military service, his advice about academic studies, the respect he showed only in private times were all heartfelt examples of the genuineness of Vince’s approach. He wasn’t one to burden an event with sentimental fluff or diplomatic tact; he always said what he meant to say. Always. For better or for worse. If you were acting stupidly or your argument was flawed, Vince was the one to point that out, but that didn’t necessarily indicate that his intentions weren’t pure.
Vince was a complex person. He loved opera, Carl Jung and was a lifelong student of the panoply of religious thinking and experience. One of my earlier memories of my dad was attending a Unitarian service with him of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in the 1970’s. The music was set to a slide presentation showing recent examples of betrayal, suffering and redemption. To me, it was a bit scary and overwhelming and afterward my dad put his arm on my shoulder and said that we should all use this Jesus figure, whether it’s fictional or not, as an example by which to live our own lives. And he wiped a tear from his eye, smiled, and then added, “you know, except for that crucifixion part.” He studied the Dalai Lama’s teachings and praised Martin Luther King’s rhetoric long before they had become the icons known today.
He was a student of Buddhist thought and practice, being sure to remind anyone that he preferred the Mahayana over the Theravada. He revered earth religions of various aboriginal cultures. He was well versed in Hindu symbolism. He could give hours of lectures on the pagan mythology, and did. As a modern day William James, Vince saw the interconnection of the various religions and spiritual practices among all the people of the world. He saw value in the Pope’s teachings and those of the lost Gospels and the Bhagavad Ghita, as well the value of the accessibility of even scurrilous self-promoters like Wayne Dyer or Werner Erhard.
When I was going through one of those mundane existential crises of late adolescence, Vince sat me down for a series of rather long fatherly discussions. (We rarely had many “short” discussions.) He showed me the similarities between prayer and meditation… and the differences. I learned the virtue of ceremony; the purpose of the Eucharist; the universality of the idea of salvation. Whether you were a Cherokee warrior living in 17th century America or a Ming Dynasty peasant or an Episcopalian from Naperville Illinois, religious experience and purpose had certain distinct similarities. Vince could synthesize the important tenets of the sundry practices and distill them into a useful instruction for every day life. Just as any physician will pursue all avenues for the benefit of his or her patient, he used his immense intellect to help people, not the least of whom was his son. Most importantly, I learned that my Dad cared.
There were other sides to Vince to be sure. He was one of the first Trekkies, never missing an episode of the fairly unpopular series during it’s first run. I remember sitting in Gram and Pop’s kitchen on Damen Avenue with my Dad watching Captain James T. Kirk seducing some bizarre alien on black and white television. Who knew that franchise would take off?
Nobody laughed harder at the Three Stooges than Vince. If he caught me or my brothers watching the old re-runs, he would roll his eyes and scoff at the “stupid” (always pronounced STOO-pid) antics, but within a few minutes he wouldn’t be able to hold back his chuckles when Moe pulled out Larry’s hair in anger or when Curley did the circle dance to his trademark woop woop woop. Likewise, Ralph Kramden was one of his heroes as well as Archie Bunker, and he even got a kick out of the puerile cartoon Beavis and Butthead.
As a kid, some of my fondest memories were vacations with Vince. One trip when I was 15 years old was out West to see the Badlands and the Arizona desert. The whole family, sans my sister, went on the camping excursion through the Dakotas and Wyoming and then headed south to the Grand Canyon. I remember July Fourth 1976, the Bicentennial, in a small town in Minnesota. The fireworks and flags and patriotism of small town Americana were special.
As we drove to see Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug and the other obligatory sites, Vince would entertain with his endless barrage of corny jokes and songs (he was his father’s son, after all). Do you know what they call Holiday Inns in Hawaii? he would ask. “Hula day Inns!” Of course, he would repeat this every single time he saw a Holiday Inn sign. Do you realize how many Holiday Inns there are over the 3000 miles of Interstates we traveled? But we laughed every time he said it, and would secretly hope he would miss the next sign as we saw it in the distance… he never did.
We stopped at a small gas station on some back road outside of Rock Springs Wyoming. The owner was a grizzled WW 2 vintage guy with a buzz cut and a silent and stern countenance. His wife was an Asian woman of the same age who, despite probably living here for 20 or 30 years, spoke very little English. Dad pointed out that they probably met during the war and he brought her back to run the station. She was the friendly one, asking us where we were headed and making other small talk. We told her we were on our way to Utah and Arizona before going back to the Midwest. “Oh! You go to OOH-tah? OOH-tah HOT! You go to OOH-tah, yes? OOH-tah HOT!! HOT!!” I could see the half-smile erupt over Vince’s face as he filed that away for later.
The next night we camped at about three thousand feet in some Utah State Park. Temperatures plunged to the unseasonable 30’s overnight and the next morning Vince was up bright and early making coffee and ripping open the canvas flaps of the trailer tent and throwing off our thick quilts. As the frigid air singed my bare legs and butt, Vince’s demonic cries could be heard through the piercing cold. “OOH-tah HOT!! Oh! You go to OOH-tah? OOH-tah HOT! You go to OOH-tah, yes? OOH-tah HOT!! HOT!!” Then he would clap his hands in rapid succession like a drill sergeant until we were all up, dressed and packed for the road.
Vince was a political junkie. He would read any number of commentary magazines from the conservative National Review to the liberal The Nation, and everything in between. The 1980 Republican convention is a particular memory. He had an admiration for Ronald Reagan’s simplicity and forthrightness, but feared his henchmen in the White House. As usual, Vince’s admonitions were correct as the duplicity of Reagan's staff became known during the Iran-Contra hearings to the regret of the entire nation.
As the years went on, Vince became even more liberal in his thinking and while always the pacifist, he began to see the increasing value of the government’s role in taking care of those who cannot care for themselves. Health care is and should be a right. Education should be free, not only for the benefit of the poor, but for the enlightened self-interest of the entire planet. He was a fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s and Joseph Heller's anti-establishmentism, and was one of the first to protest the Vietnam War. As part of his protest, he refused to get a haircut in the 1970’s until the war ended, to the dismay of his buttoned down medical group. Question authority. More recently, Vince held a special animosity in his heart for George W. Bush.
Vince lived the life that he chose to live. He was blessed to have the devotion of a beautiful wife. His only requirement of his children was that they follow their own happiness.
I vividly remember the pride my dad showed when he himself hooded me at Rockefeller Chapel upon my graduation from medical school. Since then we have had the distinct bond that only comes from the fraternal relationship among physicians and surgeons. He certainly loved me my whole life, but I always felt that a particular respect was born on that special afternoon. His smile was a little wider than usual and his hug was a little tighter. Vince has always been my ideal for what a physician should be.
I miss my Dad. Needless to say he has been a big part of who I have become (the good parts anyway.) I think about him and feel his presence everyday. These last couple years I have increasingly missed his words of wisdom, his smile and wit, and his unfailing willingness to tell me when I have been wrong and when I have been right. In many many ways, he was my rock.
My Dad always challenged me to use my brain, but did not hesitate to bare his soul to me as well. I could always do better and be better, but his love was unconditional. Vince was never afraid to give his opinion on any matter of things, and whether you agreed with him or not, you knew that his opinions were always well-considered. Vince is my ideal for what a father should be.
I love you, Dad. And if there is a heaven, I know you are there.
And on the off chance that there is indeed a God, well… good luck, God… and please take care of him.